The Presidential Fitness Failure

You are STRONG.

Now don’t back away.

I see you, wincing at the thought, immediately identifying your weakness, your weight, your challenges, your age, your doubts. Clearly I’m not talking to you.

So let me just remind you again …


Our Full Circle last week is still spinning in my mind, because in typical fashion Sarah opened the conversation with a question for the ages, this time asking the group: when did you stop trusting your body?

It’s taken me an entire week – an entire 7 moons – to pinpoint that moment, and on a struggling walk/jog this morning after a weekend of enjoying holiday beers and barbecue nachos it came through like a lightening bolt.

The first time I distrusted my body was grade school Presidential Physical Fitness testing.

You remember this, right? It was the annual testing conducted by our whistle-clad PE teacher that monitored our abilities. She would test each of us individually, the rest of the group standing around watching, recording all totals on her clipboard. Then, at the end of the year assembly, the people who “excelled” got to walk away with a certificate and were announced for their excellence in front of the entire school.

I can openly and whole-heartedly tell you it was the most dreaded experience of my year … every single year. It was the thing I couldn’t conquer, and it was one of the first experiences I felt of not being enough.

I was not strong enough.

My brain? Oh we’d been friends for years. I could trust my brain, it knew what we needed to do to perform, and it was ready to go on demand.

This body though? Well, it had run and jumped and played. As Sarah described last Monday night, it was functional and successfully served the purposes of being an active small child, something I thought little about.

But when suddenly asked to perform?

My body could not be trusted.

Let me paint you the picture. A short fit woman with a curly 80’s triangular bob, her t-shirt tucked into her coordinated gym shorts, lines up 20 small children. Sometimes, the boys and girls would be separated, other times everyone was together.

First were timed sit-ups. Get a partner. Whistle. GO!

Whistle. STOP!

Then one-by-one we had to report our totals aloud … I tortured myself with every higher number I heard, knowing I had not done enough

Then would be pushups. Get. Out. I might as well have just taken the clipboard and been her assistant, because the most I could push was a pen.

This repeated itself with timed running drills and other “fun,” but the worst was far and above the arm hang.

The boys had to do pull ups – BLESS – but the girls got to do arm hang. She would line us all up and take us down two flights of steps into the pit of the school where the old locker room was. In a tiny smelly closet, one-by-one we would take our position standing on a chair. She would then lift us up into “position” with our chin above the bar and then grab the stopwatch hanging around her neck to time how long we could hold it.


Yes, ZERO.

That was always my number. One time I may have even hit my chin on the bar on the way down, I dropped so fast.

Do you know how many sections you can fail and still get an “excellence” certificate?


Every year I failed.

Every year I was completely embarrassed as others watched me drop from that freaking bar like a hot potato. Every year, as kids compared their numbers, I sat quietly wanting to cry. Odds are there may have even been a time or two that I did.

Friend, according to that test, I was not strong enough, and I could not trust my body to do what I needed it to do to avoid failure.

For the better part of the 30 years since, I have still believed that to be true.

It was reiterated when on sports teams in junior high and high school. I proved it again in random attempts at group classes throughout the years, and I’m pretty sure I don’t need to go into detail about the ways that exact belief plays out in my dress size. 

But lady, somewhere down under these layers of skin and nachos, I am strong.

If we all lined up for a physical fitness test today, I want to reassure I would still bomb the whole freaking thing. But do you know what I can do?

Every morning at 5 am, I scoop up a 35-pound sleepy girl and carry her down the steps without waking her to start the first of many breathing treatments for the day. Multiple times a week I carry loads of baseball gear, diaper bags, folding chairs and blankets back and forth from diamonds and practices. I have completed literal half marathons and figurative marathons of wife, work and motherhood.

And every day I carry the weight of this family.

Do I still want a strong body? Hell yes, I will admit that I do. I want to know that 10 years from now, when that girl is no longer 35 pounds and still needs me to carry her I can.

I want to know that when she’s struggling to trust her own body, I can encourage her because I have learned to trust my own.

But I also know that sometimes life feels a lot like that smelly closet – all eyes on us, waiting for our chins to drop below, feeling and comparing the weight of that failure.

So give yourself a little grace today, friend. Take a deep breath and know that there is no certificate or school assembly at the end of this test called life.

Trust today that you and your body are strong.

kate j